Josh Hart was the toast of the town throughout his time in Las Vegas, leading the Los Angeles Lakers all the way to the title game and winning the tournament’s MVP award. In doing so, Hart also showed immense growth all over the court that both Luke Walton and Rob Pelinka were immensely impressed by.
”When guys start playing and the game looks easy to them, that’s how you know they’ve really advanced,” Pelinka told Mike Trudell of Lakers.com. “Josh is just making it look easy. He’s playing with an even-keeled pace, getting to the rim when he wants to, making threes. He’s defense-first.
“Magic and I were flying here tonight and just feeling so fortunate and blessed that we drafted Kyle Kuzma at 27 and he was player of the year at summer league, and now Josh Hart the 30th pick, player in the year in summer league back-to-back. It’s a proud moment for Lakers fans and for our scouting department. We’re really excited.”
The job the Lakers’ scouting department has done late in the first round and into the second in recent years has been pretty freakin’ remarkable. Most No. 27 picks are pretty much a guarantee to play in Las Vegas after their rookie season, but Kuzma very obviously didn’t need that for his development.
Hart didn’t have as big a role last year, but it was clear pretty early on that he was too good for the competition in this tournament.
Walton was asked what Hart’s done to make such massive strides, and he credited Hart’s work ethic.
“He’s been in the gym all summer long. He comes in he’s in the weight room, he’s on the court working out with Miles (Simon) and he’s committed to it. He came to us and he said ‘I don’t know what the plan is for summer league but I want to play. I want to play, I want to show what I’ve been working on. I want to compete against other people.’
“So we said hey, we’re not going to stop anyone from playing that wants to play, and I think it’s been nice for him to work on his game and show other people what he’s been capable of doing.”
When asked about the last few weeks as a whole, Hart had this to say (via the Lakers’ official Twitter account):
”They were solid. There were things I did well and things I didn’t do well. It was a good measuring stick for the work I put in this summer with Miles and just seeing how much I got better, and how much more room I have to grow.”
Hart’s improvement might serve as a bar that the rest of the young Lakers have to meet. This is the kind of cultural shift Magic Johnson and Pelinka waxed poetic about upon their hiring and, if everyone across the roster matches this development, the Lakers can surround LeBron James with the kind of talent that can produce right away, but also potentially continue improving throughout his time as a Laker.
Hart was pretty obviously unhappy with how the championship game went, though. The Lakers were blown out by the Portland Trail Blazers and he was ejected in the fourth quarter, leaving him eager for his next chance to play better:
”After this horrible game today I can’t wait to get back and get back to training camp and preseason and regular season and kind of wash this taste out of my mouth. That time can’t come soon enough.”
Honestly, next season can’t come soon enough for the rest of us either, Josh.
All quotes transcribed via the Lakers’ official Twitter account.